Friday, October 29

How to Survive Halloween

Candy's lining the grocery store aisles. Your kids are bouncing off the walls in anticipation of Sunday's booty. How are you supposed to make it through the next couple of weeks without ingesting ten pounds of chocolate? Here are my tips for surviving Halloween.

1. Buy candy you don’t like. 

Why torture yourself with bowls full of your favorite confection lying around? Do you hate Skittles? Perfect, throw a bag in your grocery cart. Are you as repulsed by candy corn as I am? Fabulous, buy a bag. No, make that two.

2. Don’t buy enough candy to feed a third-world country. 

The goal is to run out, not have bags of candy you hate lying around the house. Here’s a trick I use to decide how much to buy. Put the amount of candy you think you need into your shopping cart, then put half of it back. Works every time.

3. Throw it out. 

Separate your kids candy into three piles. Stuff they don’t like, stuff that looks suspicious, stuff they want to keep. Throw out the stuff they don’t like and anything that looks suspicious. Set a deadline for throwing any leftovers out. (You might want to keep this secret from your kids, else they'll try and wolf down their stash before the deadline.) My neighbor uses Thanksgiving as a trigger. Whatever's not eaten by then goes in the trash.

4. Save the pure chocolate bars for baking. 

I pull out all the Hershey’s chocolate bars and Kisses and put them in the pantry. You can cut them up and use them as chocolate chips in any baking recipe.

5. Know your limits.

My rule for my kids is two small pieces of candy a night (e.g., two Hershey's Kisses) or one big piece (e.g., a regular twin pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups). And I indulge a little too, because let's face it, candy's good stuff and abstinence doesn't work. It just makes you want it more. So splurge a little, but set your limit and stick to it. 

6. Give it away. 

Can’t keep your hands out of the candy bowl? Transfer your temptation to work. Place a bowl in the break room or conference room and watch the contents disappear. I know, this is horrible of me, causing my fellow humans to overindulge. But, that’s their problem. I’m trying to control my inner candy monster, they’re in charge of their own.

Wednesday, October 27

Let’s Get Cooking

You’ve got to cook. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the harsh reality when it comes to healthy living.

I know it’s easier to go out to eat. I know it’s easier to throw a frozen pizza in the oven after a long day at work. I get that. But that habit will sabotage your diet faster than I can say supersize me.

And here’s a dirty little secret about cooking—you don’t have to be Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray to put good food on the table. No one expects Duck a l’Orange on a Wednesday night.

Take me for example. While I enjoy cooking, I don’t consider myself a gourmet chef. I don’t invent my own recipes. I can’t throw a little of this and a pinch of that into a pot and have it taste good. I'm not that talented.

What I do have going for me are the following traits:

1) I like fresh food
2) I’m willing to try new things
3) I’m not afraid of failure
4) I’m a planner

That’s really all you need. Well, that and the ability to read a recipe. So there you go.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this and the thought of cooking makes you cringe, then you struggle with numbers three and four.

With respect to failure, get used to it. If you’re a beginning cook then you’re going to mess up. Trust me, I know.

I’ve made pot roast that was so tough you needed a machete to cut it. I’ve served undercooked chicken (for guests no less) and had to pop it in the microwave to finish it off (absolutely horrifying). I’ve accidentally left that bag of giblets in a turkey, made a pasta dish that was so sticky it could’ve substituted for mortar, and once, somehow forgot to add sugar to strawberry shortcake. AND, I served it for a birthday party.

You couldn’t possibly be any worse than me. You’ve just got to go for it. Realize that messing up is part of the journey and laugh it off. (My daughter Amanda still remembers the sticky pasta dish I threw out and that was over five years ago.)

Number four—planning—will take some getting used to and is the bigger hurdle, in my mind.

Hopefully I can help you with that.

When I think about the age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” I think of four components: a protein (meat or plant-based), fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and whole grains.

Using this philosophy, here’s a sample dinner menu that is one of my go-to weekday meals. It’s simple, quick, and doesn’t require any great culinary skill.

The protein: baked chicken. 
Vegetables: tossed salad and steamed broccoli.
Fruit: fresh fruit medley.
Whole grain: crusty bread or side of whole grain pasta with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese

Here’s the game plan:

1. Get the chicken in the oven
2. Make the salad
3. Make the fruit medley
4. Boil water for the pasta
5. Steam the broccoli

1. Get the chicken in the oven

Preheat the oven to 375.

6 - Chicken thighs*
Salt & Pepper

Wash the chicken and pat dry.

Place the chicken, skin side up, in a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes. You know it’s done when the juices run clear.

*Note: I know breast meat is leaner, but for the beginner cook, dark meat is a better choice because it doesn’t dry out as quickly. You can accidentally overcook it and it’ll survive just fine. And it’s cheaper than white meat.

Also, I bake chicken with the skin on so the fat flavors the meat, but I don’t eat it. It’s a sacrifice I know, but if you cook the chicken properly it’ll be moist and you won’t miss eating the skin.

2. Make the Salad

Lettuce (any kind will do, iceberg, romaine, mixed spring greens, arugula, etc.)
2 Tomatoes, cored and diced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
1 small container of crumbled Goat cheese
A handful of Craisins
A handful Pecans

Layer the ingredients in a bowl as listed above and serve with balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side. (My favorite dressing is Newman’s Own)

3. Make the Fruit Medley

I get whatever’s in season, for example last night we had the following:

½ cantaloupe
3 kiwi
1 red pear

Cut into bite-size chunks, place it in a bowl and serve.

4. Make pasta according to package directions

5. Steam the Broccoli

Wash the broccoli in cool water.

Trim off the tough stems leaving the florets.

Place an inch of water in a medium-sized pan.

Insert a vegetable steamer.

Fill the steamer with the broccoli, cover the pan and bring the water to a boil.

The broccoli’s done when it’s a bright green color, about 5 minutes.

Put it all on the table and enjoy. See how easy that is!

Friday, October 22

Food Spotlight: Dark Chocolate

I was feeling a little down this week, which of course made me want to eat poorly, to drown my sorrows in comfort food. I can still hear Dr. Lowry from the Advanced Wellness Centre lecturing me, “Food is not entertainment, Dianna. Food is energy.”

Yeah, I know. But sometimes I really need it to entertain me. To lift my mood. So I decided to compromise. If I’m going to splurge I could at least pick something that is more healthy than say, a vat of cookie dough or a large Bruster’s Brownie Blast. That’s the least I can do, right?

My selection—dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which are important in fighting free radicals. Free radicals are nasty little things that are thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

I think of free radicals as the Taliban—extremists wholly focused on destroying healthy cells. Antioxidants are the U.S. forces sent in to fight the Taliban and reestablish order.

You can’t fight the Taliban alone. Your body’s not capable of manufacturing enough antioxidants to fight the free radicals. You need backup. And the only place to get extra ammo is from your diet.

Luckily, dark chocolate can help you fight the battle. Not only has research connected dark chocolate with lowering high blood pressure, but a study from the American Chemical Society's Journal of Proteome Research showed that consumption of dark chocolate reduced stress hormones.

Well, duh. Why do you think chocolate is a staple of every PMS-suffering woman? They really needed to fund research to figure that out?

Now, a word of caution.

All this good news doesn’t give you free reign to go pound down a pound of dark chocolate. It still has a lot of fat and calories in it. (A one-ounce bar contains about 170 calories and 12g of fat—ouch!) So, as usual, MODERATION is key.

And don’t reach for milk chocolate or white chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa in it so there are no health benefits and milk chocolate has less than 30% cocoa plus tons of added sugar and milk, which completely defeats the benefits of the cocoa. Don’t kid yourself. That Snickers bar, Death by Chocolate Cake or some other chocolate confection is not healthy. You’re eating fat and sugar.

If you have a craving for something sweet, stick with a small square of plain, dark chocolate with at least 60% cocoa. Place that little piece of heaven in your mouth and let it melt. Turn out the lights if you want, light some candles, just savor the flavor.


Monday, October 18

The Danger Zone

I awoke this morning and greeted the day like I normally do, walking sluggishly with squinty eyes, tousled hair and shunning the light like a vampire.

The kids know not to pepper me with questions or ask for anything more complicated than tying a shoe. I'm simply not capable, or, more accurately, willing to help, at least not until I've had one cup of coffee. My sisters are the same way. It's apparently genetic.

After sending my darlings off to school I got down to the very serious business of finishing another cup of coffee and planning my day. The first item on my to-do list was workout. Should I go to the 8:15am cycle class or the 9:30am? I wondered. What I really wanted to do was neither and I could feel myself inching toward blowing off the whole thing.

Then in walks Michael. "You want to shop for the new bathroom vanity?" he asks me.

Ooh, shop instead of cycle, well, let me think about that for a second. Um, yes.

"Okay," I responded, "We can browse online now and I'll go to the 9:30 class."

Knowing myself, knowing that I'd fiddle around until I conveniently missed class, I set the timer on the oven to go off at 9:00am so I could run upstairs and change.

At the appointed hour, the timer dinged. God I don't want to go, I whined to myself. I'd way rather stay here in my jammies, drink another cup of coffee and decide if I want the cherry or mahogany finish on the vanity.

But I went upstairs, changed, and made it to class. Barely, but I was there.

As always, I feel better when I'm done, happy that I made it to my workout.

This experience made me realize that there's a certain point during the morning where if I procrastinate long enough, I'll skip the gym. I coined this, The Danger Zone.

My Danger Zone is between 8am and 9am. By 8am I've already missed the early cycle class and sitting around the house until 9:30am gives me too much time to think of the multitude of reasons why today just isn't a good day to exercise. And believe me, I've got a huge list of excuses—dog needs a bath, I need a bath, laundry's piling up, article deadlines are looming etc. Any one of these has the potential to derail me. And sometimes they do. But more often than not they don't. I begrudgingly take my butt to the gym.

I conquer my lazy-wanna-sit-around-all-day self by asking some hard questions. "Do you really feel like you need a break today or are you just being a slacker?" "Can your to-do list wait an hour or is there a pressing deadline?" (Sometimes I really hate the type-A side of me. She's really annoying.)

But she's right.

If I'm honest with myself, most times I want to skip the gym simply because I don't want to go. I just don't want to go! That's it. Which frankly isn't a good enough excuse and I know it. So I suck it up and I go.

When's your Danger Zone? When do you start piling on the reasons for not working out, convincing yourself that today you simply cannot make time for the gym? Are they legitimate excuses or do you just not want to go?

Author Wendy Mogel is in town this week

Please stand by for a brief public service announcement...

Last week I quoted a book called The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. It turns out the author, Dr. Wendy Mogel is in Richmond this week as part of the Commonwealth Parenting Speaker Series.

Her lecture is titled: The Blessing of a B Minus: How to Nurture Resilience and Optimism during Challenging Times. 

She'll be at The Steward School Wednesday night and the Weinstein JCC Thursday night. Tickets are $15.

If you're interested, click here to buy tickets and get more information.

Wednesday, October 13

“Mommy, this is disgusting!”

Janelle looks so innocent, doesn't she.

Nice, huh. This is the commentary I get from my seven-year-old as she stares at the dinner table laden with baked chicken, broccoli, a tossed salad and fresh strawberries.
My efforts are unappreciated, at least from her.

Another of her favorite dinnertime phrases is, “There’s nothing here I like.” 

To which I often reply, “That sounds like your problem.”

My dear, dear daughter Janelle is the bane of my nutritional efforts. The thorn in my side. The Kryptonite to my Supermom.

She won’t eat anything green, dislikes most meats, and thinks fruit is just okay. She’s been in a bread-sugar-mac-n-cheese-popcorn-yogurt-phase for the last five years and it’s killing me.

I blame it on the fact that I was eight months pregnant with her over Christmas. Already swollen and uncomfortable, I took full advantage of the fact that she would be my last child. Christmas cookies, pies, pumpkin cheesecake, nothing on the dessert table was safe when I was around. Who’s going to tell the fat, pregnant lady to ease up on the goodies, I thought. So I pounded down all of it. It was gluttonous, unbridled, and fantastic. (Until I had to lose the weight I’d gained, but that’s a story for another time.)

Now I’m reaping the consequences of my indulgences with her sugar-preferring palate.

Since I’m a bit of a Nutrition Nazi, her preferences have caused countless battles at the dinner table. At their best, these battles result in calm, but persistent negotiations regarding the exact number of peas she needs to eat, or how many bites of chicken she must devour before she may be excused. At their worst, these battles result in me angrily sending her to her room without dinner.

Exhausted from our nightly ritual, I sought help. I consulted the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee which has a chapter devoted to food.

The author, Dr. Wendy Mogel said this about food battles, “Children naturally look for opportunities to exercise their will, and refusing to eat vegetables or eating only white foods is an attractive target…Feeding children is a situation that calls for a balance of power. If you don’t use yours, your child will use his.”

Janelle and I were in a power struggle over food and she was winning. The prize, I reasoned, was my attention. At dinnertime I was devoted to her. The more she resisted the more I talked, coaxed, and negotiated. Instead of catching up on the activities of all my children, it was, The Janelle Show.

To correct this imbalance of power, Dr. Mogel suggested backing off completely. What? I thought. But, but, then she’d only eat the pasta or the rice. So what? Dr. Mogel reasoned. So what if your child doesn't eat protein, vegetables, salad and fruit in one sitting? If your child is healthy, if their doctor isn’t worried about their growth, then let it go.

Let it go. Right. That’s easier said than done. 

But I did it.

I refused to engage in any more negotiations. I simply prepared the meal, set the food on the table and let Janelle pick whatever she’d like. The only rules were, she had to pick foods from the table and, if she chose not to eat anything that was fine, but no additional food would be served until breakfast.

Dr. Mogel’s theory is that eventually, she’ll come around. She’ll see us enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods and her curiosity will get the better of her.

So far, it’s worked beautifully.

The greatest gift has been the peacefulness at dinner. Mealtime is now a pleasurable experience. A time for sharing, reconnecting, laughing.

And Janelle even eats broccoli now. But only the florets, and only on Tuesdays when there’s a quarter moon.

But it’s a start.

Monday, October 11

Food Spotlight: Greek Yogurt

Given the recent headlines about Greece’s financial woes, I wouldn’t take money advice from a Greek, but boy do they know what they’re doing with yogurt!

I recently switched from my normal brand of yogurt to Greek style, mostly because I heard it was healthy for you, and then I tasted it.

OMG! It’s fantastic. Creamy and thick, it’s like pudding. It feels like I’m eating a treat. This can’t possibly be healthy, I thought, it’s too yummy.

So, what’s the deal? Why is Greek style so good for you?

It’s the protein. Compared to regular yogurt it has over twice as much protein in a single serving.

Below is a comparison between Chobani Greek yogurt with another creamy style. While the Greek yogurt is slightly higher in calories, you get far more bang for your buck on the protein side.

Yoplait Strawberry Thick and Creamy Light

Chobani Strawberry Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Calories (6 oz serving)
0 g
20% DV
20% DV
Vitamin A
15% DV
Vitamin C
2% DV
Vitamin D
20% DV
Not listed
15% DV
Not listed

What’s all the hub-ub about protein?

Most women don’t get enough, especially those of us over 40.

Protein is important because it’s one of the basic building blocks for your body. And for the vanity in me, it’s what your hair and nails are made of. You want supermodel hair and nails as strong as an eagle’s talons? Eat your protein.

Another benefit of protein is that it helps you feel full. Greek yogurt, because it packs a lot of protein in a small amount of calories, is a great snack. It’ll get you from 10 am until lunch, or for me, from 4 pm until dinner without raiding the refrigerator, the vending machine, or God forbid, driving through Chick Fil A for a sandwich, fries and large sweet tea!

Temptation be gone! Eat this yummy yogurt and quell the angry snack monster inside you. It works, just give it a try.

Wednesday, October 6

Size Matters

Check out my breakfast at the Hawaiian Style Café in Kamuela, Hawaii. Notice anything amiss?

First, of course, is the fact that there are pancakes and hash browns with my omelet. Not the best choice since they’re made with white flour and potatoes. But in my defense, these pancakes were ranked as one of America’s Top 10 Pancakes by Travel & Leisure magazine, so I had to try them.

The bigger problem is the portion size. Those two pancakes were a SIDE item. A SIDE!! The omelet was my main course. And don’t get me started on the quantity of hash browns. That’s like a triple-order at the Waffle House.

I normally look like this.

If I ate that amount of food on a regular basis, I’d look like this.

I know, pretty scary right?!?!

You absolutely cannot eat that much food without packing on the pounds. It’s mathematically impossible.

The geek in me likes to think about weight control as a simple equation. Specifically,

(Calories eaten) — (Calories used) = Leftover calories

If you eat more calories than you burn, your body stores the leftover calories as fat and you gain weight. A pound of body weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Thus, if you eat 500 extra calories a day (e.g., one Starbucks Blueberry Scone), you’ll gain a pound a week.

To lose weight you have to eat fewer calories than you burn. This is why portion control is so important. Not only do you have to pay attention to what you eat but also, how much you’re eating.

It’s difficult, I know. We live in culture that has a completely distorted view of portion size. Did you see that plate of breakfast food they served me! Everything is Super-sized, value-sized, or Costco-sized. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Costco. But I don’t plan on sitting down and eating a Costco-sized box of anything at one time. No one should.

To get on the right track and familiarize ourselves with a “normal” portion size, I’ve listed some examples of a proper single serving.

Type of Food
Single Serving
About the size of…
Lean meat
3 oz.
A deck of cards
3 oz.
A checkbook
Dry cereal
1 cup
A baseball
1.5 oz.
Three stacked dice
1 Tbls.
A poker chip
1 cup
A baseball
Salad dressing
1 Tbls.
A poker chip
2 Tbls.
A golf ball
Sweet potato

A computer mouse

For more information on portion sizes, click over to WebMD here. It has a great wallet-sized guide to portion control that you can print out and take with you.

Going back to my gargantuan pancakes, according to the portion guide a single serving of pancakes is roughly the size of a compact disc. Hmm, I think I had an entire media library on my plate!

I couldn’t eat everything, nor did I try. Feeling wasteful that 80% of my food was leftover, I was happy to hear they raised pigs behind the restaurant. The waitress claims the pigs thoroughly enjoy everyone’s scraps. Even the bacon. That just seems wrong, doesn’t it?

Sunday, October 3

Food Spotlight: Go Nuts!

Peter Paul Almond Joy’s got nuts.
Peter Paul Mounds don't.
Sometimes you feel like a nut.
Sometimes you don't!

Do you remember that jingle? I can’t get it out of my head. Now you won’t be able to either.

You’re welcome.

Since I toured a macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, I decided to dedicate this week’s Food Spotlight to the nut.

First, let me clear up a common misconception regarding America’s favorite nut, the peanut. It’s actually not a nut at all, it’s a bean. I know, what are they doing calling it a nut then? Beats me. I guess “peanut” sounded better than “peabean.”

Actually, the food industry isn’t completely nuts (sorry, I couldn’t resist), they’ve grouped the peanut into the nut category because it has some of the same nutritional qualities as real nuts.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, and a host of other prestigious institutions, nuts are good for your heart. They contain unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, L-arginine, fiber, Vitamin E and plant sterols. All substances that are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Although the FDA will only allow food companies to say that evidence “suggests but does not prove” that eating nuts reduces your risk of heart disease, the data is pretty amazing.
For example, a Harvard study tracked 86,016 women between the ages of 34 and 59 for 14 years. And, “During that time, women who ate at least 5 ounces of nuts per week were 35% less likely to suffer heart attacks than women who ate less than 1 ounce a month…Moreover, a careful analysis of other risk factors showed that the protective power of nuts could not be explained away by other dietary patterns (fat, fiber, vegetables, fruits), health habits (smoking, drinking, exercise), or risk factors (blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, family history).”
The good news doesn’t stop there. While it’s important to tout the heart-healthy benefits of nuts, it’s also interesting to note what nuts are lacking—specifically, cholesterol and sodium. Nuts are naturally void of both substances.
Thus eating nuts is heart-healthy, but there’s a catch. There always is, right?
Nuts are almost 80% fat and even though it’s the good kind of fat, that means they pack a lot of calories in a teeny, tiny serving. Take a look at the calorie count for a handful of the following unsalted nuts.


# Nuts in a 1 oz. serving
Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
14 halves
18-20 halves
Pine nut
Brazil Nut

 ** Peanuts have zero omega-3s

Yowza! Almost 200 calories in a handful. Not surprisingly, the recommended daily serving is only a little more than a handful, 1.5 ounces.
Before you say, “Forget it, I’m not wasting my precious calories on nuts,” consider this. Studies suggest that eating a handful of nuts daily may help prevent weight gain and possibly promote weight loss. The fat, protein and fiber in nuts help you feel full longer, so you eat less during the day. 
Does it matter which nuts you choose? Yes it does.
The last column in the table above lists the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. You want to choose nuts with the lowest ratio here, i.e., the nuts at the top of the list.
Why should you care about omega-6 and omega-3?
We are a culture that consumes far too many omega-6 foods—processed and fast foods—and omega-6 is an inflammatory compound. Too much inflammation in the body leads to ill health. 
Russell Greenfield, MD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, "We always thought anything with an ‘itis’ at the end involved inflammation, such as arthritis or appendicitis. But even the illnesses without an ‘itis’ at the end, such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, even Alzheimer's disease, may be triggered in part by inflammation.”
To correct our inflammatory diet, we need to eat more foods high in omega-3s, which are anti-inflammatory.
This is why Dr. Oz is such a fan of walnuts. They're heart-healthy and high in omega-3s. It's a win-win. The worst choice is (gasp!) the peanut. Unfortunately, my beloved friend needs to be sidelined as he’s completely void of omega-3s. Crap! Good thing I didn’t know about this problem when I was pregnant because I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
So, grab a handful of nuts, pop them in your mouth, sprinkle them on some oatmeal, or toss ‘em in a salad, but remember to eat them raw or dry roasted. Salted nuts or ones dipped in chocolate and surrounded by caramel and coconut don’t count!